Essential Features for Choosing PCB Layout Software

A scientific research journal article published in 2017 reports that owning a dog typically leads to a longer life and less vulnerability to certain types of diseases for the owner. Apparently, the commonly held belief that dogs are man’s best friend has some credence. I suspect there are many benefits to having a reliable partner as we grow, age, and learn to make the journey more rewarding.

This is certainly true when it comes to PCB layout software. As an engineer, some of your most important decisions are what tools to use. Your choices can equip you to succeed or limit your productivity. To be a successful PCB designer requires dedication, creativity, and the right PCB layout software. Without a software program that is robust and flexible your ability to deliver for your clients is limited and so will be your project options.

There is a wide range of features to consider when it comes to PCB layout software programs and the choice of using several different tools or committing to one can seem difficult. And the choice not only impacts you but can affect the entire development team as well as the efficiency and effectiveness of the process.

All PCB layout software tools are not created equal. Therefore, before committing to a partnership, you should ensure the program has the capabilities and functionality to meet your requirements not only today but also as your designs grow in complexity. Let’s take a look at what features are essential for your design depending upon its complexity.

PCB Layout Software Essentials

In the table below, features are listed that are necessary for your design process efficiency and/or to aid your contract manufacturer in building your boards, regardless of the complexity of your design.



Simple Design

Complex Design

Schematic Capture Starting the design from a schematic is by far the best option, even for simple designs. For complex designs, starting with a schematic is virtually imperative. Otherwise, the board layout is likely to be replete with errors that could easily be avoided.
Automatic DRC It is imperative that the design can be checked for rule compliance. Same as for simple design.
Forward and Backward Annotation Laying out a board directly is much more challenging than beginning with a schematic and is a basic requirement for any design. This is even truer for complex designs.
Assisted Routing This is a basic requirement that any design tool should have. Routed complex boards manually without any assistance is not a task to be undertaken.
Autorouting For simple circuits, traces can be manually routed. For complex circuits with many vias, manual routing is extremely challenging without some automation.
Autoplacement Although helpful, for small numbers of components manual placement can be done fairly easily. This can be a great help for large numbers of components; however, some manual placement will undoubtedly also be necessary.
Real-time Component Data Researching a small number of components is a doable task. Thus, this capability is not really needed. For large numbers of components keeping track of their status can be extremely time-consuming. Having this data available will save significant time and avoid future component availability issues.
Export options At a minimum, the program should be able to export Gerber files. The more design file package formats that the program can export widens the range of CMs that can be used to build your boards.
DFM importation For simple circuits, it may be possible to get away with general industry standards for DFM. The more complex the design, the more critical it is for design specifications to be in alignment with CM equipment capabilities.
Signal Analysis Simple circuits will typically have a single signal type and perhaps a power distribution network (PDN) and do not need this capability. This is advantageous for boards with multiple signals types or signals at various frequencies.
Thermal Analysis Simple circuits will most often employ standard materials that will suffice; therefore, this capability is not required. Complex circuits typically include high power devices and multiple signal types. In these cases, the ability to ensure thermal dissipation and thermal distribution are adequate can be a great benefit.
3D Visualization Not necessary for simple circuits, especially single or double-layer boards. Can be a tremendous benefit, especially when MCAD integration is necessary.
ECAD - MCAD Integration Usually, simple boards do not include enclosure integration. This capability allows for precise board dimensioning for installation.
Panelization Design Can be performed by the CM. Aids the CM and allows you to specify the depanelization technique used.

3 PCB Manufacturing Trends You Need to Know

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As shown in the table above, there are essential features that your PCB layout software should possess to facilitate your design, whether simple or complex. However, as it is likely that your designs will continue to increase in complexity, it is highly recommended that you anticipate features that will become essential.

Tempo‘s Custom PCB Manufacturing Service
  • ISO-9001, IPC-600 and IPC-610 commitment to quality certifications.
  • Accurate quote in less than 1 day.
  • Performs entire turnkey process in as fast as 3 days.
  • Emphasizes DFM to eliminate time-consuming back-and-forth design corrections.
  • Sources components from the most reputable suppliers in the industry to reduce procurement time.
  • Performs multiple automated inspections during assembly to ensure PCB quality for prototyping.
  • Provides support throughout the PCB manufacturing process, beginning with design.
  • Smooth transition from prototyping to production.

The software tool that you use to design your boards should minimally meet the essential feature requirements presented above for the complexity of your design. However, the more features that you can bring to bear will not only aid in design but also in the manufacturing of your PCBAs. At Tempo Automation, we build high-quality PCBAs the fastest in the industry for all levels of complexity.

And to help you get started on the best path, we furnish information for your DFM checks and enable you to easily view and download DRC files. If you’re an Altium Designer or Cadence Allegro user, you can simply add these files to your PCB design software. For Mentor Padsespecially or other design packages, we furnish DRC information in other CAD formats and Excel.

If you are ready to have your design manufactured, try our quote tool to upload your CAD and BOM files. If you want more information on PCB layout software and essential features to facilitate your board’s manufacturing, contact us.

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